Army’s own vaccine that could combat COVID variants begins clinical trials

A unique vaccine produced by the Walter Reed Army Research Institute began clinical testing on Tuesday, and Army researchers hope it will fight variants of SARS-COV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The vaccine, called spike ferritin nanoparticle, or SpFN, could also help fight other coronaviruses, a group of related RNA viruses that often cause respiratory-related diseases in mammals.

Army researchers have been tracking the threat posed by new coronaviruses even before the pandemic, according to Kayvon Modjarrad, director of emerging infectious diseases at Walter Reed. That threat has been accelerating in recent years.

“That is why we need a vaccine like this – one that has the potential to broadly and proactively protect against multiple species and strains of coronavirus,” Modjarrad said in a statement announcing SpFN testing.

The Department of Defense has had a combined total of more than 271,000 COVID-19 cases. Of these, 3,814 people have been hospitalized and 332 people have died. Twenty-four of the dead have been service members and 11 have been dependents.

Tech. Staff Sgt.  Joseph Anthony of the 911th Aeromedical Staging Squadron holds a vial of COVID-19 vaccine at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station, Pennsylvania, on February 4, 2021 (Joshua J. Seybert / Air Force).

The vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna were approved under an emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration and are available to troops.

The Pentagon has made vaccination of the force a matter of readiness so that military operations can return to pre-pandemic norms. Although there were some problems pressuring the troops to take the voluntary vaccine early on, vaccination rates appear to be increasing in recent weeks.

“The more people get vaccinated as quickly as possible, the level of transmission of the virus decreases, giving them less opportunity to continue mutating,” said Dr. Steven Cersovsky, deputy director of the Army Public Health Center, in late February. .

New variants of COVID-19 have emerged in South Africa and the United Kingdom. But Army medical personnel are hopeful that current vaccines can combat those new strains. But if there are problems, Walter Reed’s vaccine may be timely.

Command Sgt.  Major Alex Kupratty of the 4th Infantry Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, receives his initial dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Jan.6 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska.  (Major Jason Welch / Army)

“We have designed and positioned this platform as the next-generation vaccine, one that paves the way for a universal vaccine to protect not only against the current virus, but also to counter future variants, stopping them in their tracks before they can cause another pandemic, Modjarrad said.

Preclinical studies indicated that SpFN induces very strong antibody responses in patients, slowing down the virus that causes COVID-19 infection, as well as three main variants of SARS-CoV-2 and the SARS-CoV-1 virus.

The phase 1 study is being conducted at the Walter Reed Clinical Trials Center and will enroll 72 healthy adult volunteers between the ages of 18 to 55 years. Participants will be randomly placed in experimental or placebo groups.

The SpFN clinical trial is sponsored by the US Army Medical Research and Development Command.

The vaccine was developed by the Walter Reed Army Research Institute with support from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc.


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